Rising star director Rodula Gaitanou joins with designer Takis and conductor Timothy Myers to give Wexford a successful season launch with this entertaining staging of Massenet’s Don Quichotte – not played at the festival since 1965.
The result is a production of one of the French composer’s finest pieces that balances perfectly the mixed package of humour and sentiment through which he and his canny librettist stitch together scenes from Cervantes’ enormous novel into something that works on stage.
Massenet’s ever skilful score is vividly purveyed under Myers, who benefits from the strength and excellence of the chorus and orchestra built up over his 15-year tenure by departing artistic director David Agler.
Takis’ sets and costumes conjure up a down-at-heel visual distillation of late-20th-century rural Spain, with Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson’s touchingly loyal Sancho Panza and Georgian bass Goderdzi Janelidze’s nobly voiced Don Quichotte conducting their knight errantry on a scooter and a motorbike that have both (like their owners) seen better days.
Crowd scenes are unfailingly resourceful – especially where Janelidze’s humane eloquence reduces the rough, tough bandits led by Henry Grant Kerswell’s borderline psychotic Tenebrun to tears of shame; Takis even throws in a couple of convincing windmills for the dotty old man to tilt at.
Russian mezzo Aigul Akhmetshina’s smoky tone and genuine emotional warmth set her up perfectly as Don Quichotte’s idealised innamorata Dulcinea – for whom no sacrifice could ever be too great.
The secondary roles go well, meshing into the individualised choral portraits to comprise an integrated company ensemble who ensures that interest never flags.